Monday, May 3, 2010

Translating Innovation into Reality - part #1

THEME: Spring 2010 From Vision to Action Roundtable Report

FOCUS: Translating Innovation into Reality - part #1

Monday morning: May 3, 2010

Dear friends,

If we seek to translate innovation into a profitable reality, then we need to examine what is happening within our organizations on a deeper level.

First, every day the sales force within your company is focused on serving your existing customer base. Furthermore, your supply chain is focused on supporting your sales force and delivering your product or service in a timely manner. In essence, the majority of your day to day operations is attempting to be an efficient, cash generating business.

However, every day your organization runs into a problem, namely your customer. While most businesses are focused on their current customers within their current markets, they, at times, forget that each customer enters into a relationship with the company to fulfill an existing need. The goal of many executives is to change employee behaviors related to production and service delivery so as to meet this specific customer need. This may translate into the development of better skills, structure, goals, and systems in order to improve how to serve existing customers within existing markets.

And here is where the problem surfaces. Customers change over time. The need they have today as a customer may or may not be the need they have tomorrow or the next day. The key is for the company to meet the customer’s existing needs as well as their new needs. But, most cash generating parts of the business are not focused on meeting new needs. Their systems are only focused on fulfilling existing needs.

Therefore, companies invest in research and development divisions. Here, they try to figure out what are the customers current needs and what will be their new or emerging needs. These divisions are also looking into how to serve new customers in new markets. In essence, these divisions are attempting to position their organizations for future business.

With one level of the company focused on cash generation and another level focused on generating a sustainable future, we come to the most complex level of any company, namely how to prepare the organization for the market of tomorrow. At this level, we are on-boarding the next generation of high growth opportunities that are coming from the R&D pipeline. By commercializing the innovations and innovative systems generated from the R&D level of the company, we hope to position the company for future cash generating business.

However, we do run in to one simple but difficult hurdle when we do this, namely how to close the gap between the current competitive strengths and tomorrow’s competitive requirements. When confronted with cash generation, R&D, and ramping up new ideas, the first two will always take precedence over the last one. Therefore, the major question before executives this spring is how to build new core competencies into the company when it is so focused cash generation and R&D?

This week, remind your team that there are three levels to every successful company and each one is different and challenging to manage.

Have a good week,


P.S. I recently found some very good articles in the May 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review. I enjoyed the very short article by Jocelyn R. Davis and Tom Atkinson called “Need Speed? Slow Down” about the differences between strategically fast companies and strategically slow companies. It is delightful to find an article that shows how firms that slowed down to speed up improved their top and bottom lines, “averaging 40% higher sales and 52% higher operating profits over a three year period.” I have been advocating for people to differentiate between operational speed and strategic speed for quite some time. Nice to see a study that proves it.

Next, in the same issue, I enjoyed Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s short column called “Block-by-Blockbuster Innovation” which points out that “blockbuster products don’t spring to life or work in the marketplace without incremental change.” Delightfully thought-provoking and a good place to start a discussion on change with a senior team.

I was very happy to see an article in this issue called “How to Keep Your Top Talent” by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt. As they explain, “One-quarter of the highest-potential people in your company intend to jump ship within the year.” We explored this topic at the Spring 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable and it is great to see an article on this topic. These authors explain that one should not assume that high potential people are engaged and not to mistake current high performance for future potential. They also advocate for not delegating down talent development to line managers. Given the current economy and the need to retain top talent, this is one article I would put on the spring reading list.

Finally, I was pleased to see another article by Tamara J. Erickson in this issue called “The Leaders We Need Now.” Here, she focuses on how Generation X will produce executives who will “bring a distinctive sense of realism to the modern corporation.” I liked how this article explained how Xers view Boomers and how Xers currently view their place in corporate life. For those who are managing and/or coaching Xers, this will be an article that could provide some interesting perspective. For those who want to retain excellent Gen Xers managers, then this is a must for spring reading.

As always, if you discover something good in your adventures and travels, please do not hesitate to share it with me. Thanks and Happy Reading!

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257


  1. Geery,
    Thanks for mentioning Forum's article in HBR (Need Speed? Slow Down.) You make good points regarding existing and future customer needs. It seems that the organization you depict is seeking to execute current strategy while adapting to changing market needs with a structural approach, while the question you pose is: How can we approach this without dividing the tasks up by division? We talk about this very question in our upcoming (June) book , Strategic Speed. The 4 leadership practices required are: Affirming Strategies, Driving Execution, Creating Climate, and Cultivating Experience. The last practice, Cultivating Experience, is about this real-time adaptation. For more info, check our blog We'll have a webinar coming up in June as well. Thanks again - nice work on this blog.

  2. Geery,

    Very interesting post. Your point that “… the major question before executives this spring is how to build new core competencies into the company when it is so focused cash generation and R&D” is exactly what the Sales and Customer Experience Practice Team at The Forum Corporation is investigating now. Specifically, how are leading edge B2B sales organizations uncovering and responding to emerging customer needs while maximizing current revenue flow. As business customers gain increasing power in every market suppliers are ever more challenged to offer differentiated value. Traditional R&D can no longer meet this challenge alone or fast enough. We are seeing sales teams using new methods and tools to more deeply understand emerging customer needs, often teaching the customer about their own needs in the process, and leading their supply chain organizations to more rapidly respond to these needs. We will be reporting our findings later this year. In the meantime, I look forward to your future posts